UO Research Excellence Abounds

Each year Research Excellence Awards are handed out by the Office of Research, Innovation and Graduate Education to highlight the outstanding research activities taking place at the UO. Award recipients were honored at a spring ceremony. The Outstanding Research Career Award is given annually to two tenured faculty members of associate or full professor rank. Recipients share their outstanding work with campus colleagues by giving the Presidential Research Lecture on campus in the year following the receipt of their award. The Early Research Career Awards are presented to tenure-track faculty members at the assistant professor rank. The Outstanding Accomplishment Award is handed out for a career nontenure track faculty member engaged in independent research activities, as well as for a nontenure-track faculty member engaged in technical activities in support of research.

Independent Researcher Award

Leslie Opp-Beckman is the director of e-learning and a senior instructor at the American English Institute, a program of the Department of Linguistics. She develops innovative e-learning programs that guide more than 5,000 educators teaching English as a foreign language in more than 125 countries. Her interdisciplinary research on e-learning and English language teaching has helped make her a leader in the field of computers and language learning.

“I really love the educators we work with worldwide,” Opp-Beckman says. “They’re talented people who bring a new perspective to everything we do. We learn something from them constantly, it’s definitely a multidirectional (not one-way) street.”

Early Research Career Award

An assistant professor of history, Mark Carey specializes in environmental history and the history of science. His integrative approach to climate-change research incorporates environmental history, Latin American history, social history, and glaciology. His book, In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society, examines the human costs of climate change in Peru and weighs the implications of glacier retreat.

“I’m not a traditional historian,” Carey jokes. “Most historians spend all their time in the archive reading, but I like to get out and go to the mountains. Analyzing scientists and engineers in the field and talking with the people who actually live near glaciers provides depth and understanding to issues that are happening right now.”

Outstanding Accomplishment Award

As the manager of the Nanofabrication Facility at the Center for Advanced Materials Characterization in Oregon, Jeff Ditto provides invaluable technical support to users of the research tools inside Oregon’s high tech extension service. Having logged thousands of hours on the facility’s focused ion beam instruments, Ditto is regarded as one of the world’s most skilled operators of the device—a nanofabrication and analysis tool that he describes as the “Swiss army knife of nanotechnology.”

“It’s been really great,” says Ditto, who completed the UO’s Graduate Internship Program before taking on his research support role. “My job provides an opportunity to be involved in research from all areas of the sciences. It’s a pleasure to work in such an outstanding facility and be surrounded by so many great mentors. The university has been very supportive of my ideas and has the infrastructure to pursue innovations.”

Early Research Career Award

An assistant professor of biology, Cris Niell studies the neural circuitry of the visual system to explain the mechanisms behind visual perception. A former physicist, Niell turned to biology because he wanted to learn how the brain functions. He is currently working on a project examining neural pathways and behavioral states in the mouse visual system as well as research studying the development of the visual system to understand how neurons establish appropriate circuits that perform specific computations.

“I’ve been really excited about how quickly our research has gotten going here at UO,” Niell says. “We’re also expanding into a lot of new directions I wouldn’t have expected, including working with groups in psychology to use mouse vision to understand memory and attention, and working with a group in physics to design fractal electrodes that could be used for retinal prostheses.”

Outstanding Research Career Award

A professor of architecture specializing in the cartography and urban history of Rome, James Tice shares his passion for one of the world’s great cities through the creation of interactive online maps. Tice is currently working on his third venture in this vein, the GIS Forma Urbis Romae Project: Creating a Layered History of Rome. The previous websites that Tice co-created, the Interactive Nolli Map and Giuseppe Vasi’s Grand Tour of Rome, were conceived as a resource for students and scholars but have mushroomed into an international phenomenon.

“When I first started this work over ten years ago it was a labor of love that I thought twelve people might find interesting,” Tice says. “I had no idea that hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world would find it engaging.”

Outstanding Research Career Award

A professor of English, Sayre is a specialist in American literature from the sixteenth through early nineteenth centuries. One of his areas of interest is the intersection of environmental studies and literature, a field for which the University of Oregon has international renown. Sayre is the author, editor, or translator of five books, and is currently beginning work on a project about climate and extinction in early America.

“I enjoy searching in archives and reading the narratives of explorers, sailors, soldiers, and traders in eighteenth-century America,” Sayre says. “To discover a new voice from the past is a special thrill for me.”